The United Rugby Championship finally returns to South African soil on Saturday, with a pair of local derbies heralding the latest rugby reboot in the Covid-19 world.
It’s the latest attempt to kick-start the URC in the Southern Hemisphere, after the rapid rise of the Omicron variant saw the touring European sides head for the hills in 2021.
Fixtures remain in-house for now, mind you, with Lions hosting Sharks ahead of the North – South derby between the Bulls and Stormers.
Lions vs Sharks
United Rugby Championship action makes its South African comeback on Saturday afternoon as the Sharks make the trip to Emirates Airline Park to play the Lions.
The pair meet in Johannesburg separated by just one place and two bonus points, for what the standings are worth given the disruption of this season so far.
It was the best possible end to 2021 for the Gauteng side, too, as they returned from Cape Town with a booming win over the sorry Stormers.
The Sharks managed a similar success against the Bulls at Kings Park to polish off the year, teeing up an intriguing encounter on the Highveld.
Springboks star Lukhanyo Am leads the visitors, with Bok wings Sibusiso Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi either side of the centre.
Retshegofaditswe Nche returns to the front row following his successful spell with the international setup.
Vincent Tshituka is an injury absentee for the hosts, who are captained by Burger Odendaal.
Bulls vs Stormers
It’s a North – South derby to kick off the new year in the United Rugby Championship, as the Bulls host the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld.
The old rivals struggled during the fragmented genesis of the URC in the second half of 2021, picking up just one win apiece from their opening five fixtures.
Both were beaten in their final outing of the year, too, as the Bulls went down to the Sharks in Durban while the Stormers were stuffed in Cape Town by the Lions.
Warrick Gelant is only named among the away side’s replacements, despite being a shining light throughout the opening half of the disjointed campaign.
Damian Willemse takes his place at full-back, while Steven Kitshoff co-captains the men in blue and white from the front row.
Veteran Cornal Hendricks captains the hosts, with Lionel Mapoe joining him in the centres in Pretoria.
Teenage flanker Reinhard Ludwig makes his URC debut in the rival clash.
United Rugby Championship: Predictions
Prediction methodology explained: The expected win percentage is based off publicly available odds. For example, if a team?s odds are 2.30, the expected chance of winning is 43%. If the odds are 1.62 the expected chance of winning is 62% and so on. These are accurate at the time of writing but are subject to change. Where there is no value listed, the odds were not available at the time of writing. Score margins are taken from statschatnz.